What a Decline in Empathy Means to Your Farm

I’ve decided that in general, people in Northeast Ohio like to complain. This is especially true when it comes to weather.


There’s this saying (as is fitting for a lot of places), “Don’t like the weather? Just wait five minutes.”

As I’m writing this, we’re experiencing “cooler” temperatures in the 40s and 50s, after brief stretches in the 60s and 70s, and I’ve overheard many a conversation lately about how “cold” it is, and just how much folks long for warmer temperatures. I’ve wanted to point out to complete strangers how challenging these “warm” springs can be for the folks who grow the food they expect to eat.

But, I bite my tongue. I’m sure these strangers would think I’m nuts, despite how pragmatic my talking points are.

I’ve saved my soapbox speeches for close friends, who I remind very casually that they can’t have both warm Marches or Aprils and plentiful fruit in the late summer and fall.

They talk about how much fun it was to walk around St. Patrick’s Day 2012 in shorts, and I have to explain just how little fun that was for you folks in the East and Midwest.
They sigh and grumble and agree with me, sort of.

I remind them that last year we had snow up to April 17, and we usually have at least one more snow after Easter. And, that it’s better for folks in farming if it stays cooler than go on a warming and cooling roller coaster where things can get dicey as the trees come out of dormancy.

My empathy for what you go through in spring really hit home when I recently read a piece on the decline in empathy since the 2000s, especially among people in my generation. In the piece, it says researchers have found that young people on average measure 40% less empathetic than a generation before.

This alarms me on many levels. Not just because I try to be empathetic — I think it’s a good quality to practice. But because this could, and likely will, affect you directly.

If consumers don’t see the correlation between the pests or the bad weather you may face growing the food they expect in the stores, this farm-to-fork disconnect is just going to increase. I know consumers have no idea how hard it is to farm, and there are so many things they expect you to deliver on when it comes to produce.

To echo what our Editor, David Eddy, has said so many times in these pages, it’s critical to keep the dialogue going about the good and bad parts of farming. The more your consumers start to understand what it takes to produce the food they eat, hopefully, the more empathetic they’ll be.

Empathy won’t change the weather, obviously, but a little education will help the public understand what it means for your orchard or farm.

While I love St. Patrick’s Day and all that goes with it, I never want to walk around in shorts on March 17 in Northeast Ohio ever again.